Saturday, 7 March 2009


Looking for the new Plus belle la vie - the French Coronation Street or EastEnders - since France's public tv channel France 3 struck gold with this Soap Opera, private rival TF1 launched Seconde chance last september. But TF1's feuilleton quotidien, a 28 million euro daily Ugly Betty (, never reached the channel's rating expectations and its 180 episode run is about to end.


Private channel M6, TF1's arch rival, entered on the road to Eldorado before TF1 last summer with Pas de secrets entre nous, a Marathon production (a company which had a certain expertise with St Tropez, sold in more than 100 countries), but the effort bombed. Now M6 strategically takes advantage of the demise of Seconde chance, to courageously offer its new effort: Paris 16ème.

An estimated budget of 17 million euros, 180 shooting days for an initial deal of 80 episodes (shot simultaneously by two production units), 9 sets created by a team of 70 crew members under the direction of Production designer Jacques Houdin, 26 writers, 7 directors. These are the key numbers for this CALT production by Jean-Yves Robin. This company is known for having revolutionized French television fiction with two short format series, Caméra Café (a global hit through numerous adaptations) and Kaamelott.

Lorène Maréchal (Alexandra Naoum), a young woman from province, arrives in Paris with Antoine (Richard Gotainer), her uncle, for the funerals of her parents. She's invited by socialite Catherine Cipriani (Alexandra Kazan) at her luxurious condo in the 16ème arrondissement of Paris (one of the richest districts of the capital city). Catherine is the wife of Philippe Cipriani (Didier Menin), shadowy owner of Carialis - a prosperous shipping company. Lorène must discover an hostile world and a face a secret her uncle feels obliged to reveal to her.


French channel M6 boldly shows the very first episode of Paris 16ème on its website before the premiere of the daily soap on March 9 ( The mini-website about the show is very well done with videos, character presentation, the soap's premise, a feature about the sets and some stats. M6 seems very proud of the theme song, Paris is burning, from electro pop phenom Ladyhawke (New Zealander singer Pip Brown) composed in fact two years ago. You can watch the video on the site.

Since Plus belle la vie started slowly before becoming a hit after a complete and hard retooling, every observer of this "Soap Wars" takes care of not burying the new player too soon. But you can already sense some weaknesses in this first episode, beginning with a "subconscious americanization": the theme song is in English and some of the characters are named Ethan, Tara or Chris. But we're in Paris and we have the usual shots of the Eiffel Tower and the Parisian subway.

Another problem is terrible dialogue lines, like: « My phone is exploding. I'm your communication officer. I must communicate. - Then, communicate » or « The real problem is that you're poor». And of course Paris 16ème cannot avoid the clichés of the genre like the cultural clash between the poor heroine and her hosts, Philippe's henchman, the wisecracking café owner confident, or the young and brave attorney who wants to make Philippe fall a on high-scale pollution case. There's even some attitudes reminding of Le coeur a ses raisons, a Soap Opera parody by Quebequer humorist Marc Labrèche (well-known in France).


The border between codes and clichés is slim in the world of Soaps and clichés can be strength if well handled. We'll watch half a dozen episodes to see if we're convinced, your humble servant being - like Master Chiun - an aficionado of "Beautiful dramas". On the contrary of Seconde chance, the cast of Paris 16ème is one of the positive points of this new daily Soap: Philippe is played by respectable character actor Didier Menin (remarked in Plus belle la vie), who has the challenge to escape from the stereotype of the unscrupulous businessman stuck to this cell phone. Paris 16ème may hold its Charles Frémont, played by the excellent Alexandre Fabre in Plus belle la vie.

Alexandra Kazan (Catherine) has an international résumé which includes appearances in the 1989 adaptation of The Saint (with Simon Dutton) or Dracula: The series , and regular roles in some French tv shows. The career of Wadeck Stanczak (Alfred Saint-Faye) is an impressive list of film and television credits, but the real good surprise of the casting is Richard Gotainer, better known in France as a popular singer, as Lorène's nice working class uncle. Paris 16ème relies also on a group of fresh faces and remember that young new talents put Y&R on the map in the seventies.

But the longevity of Y&R maybe the producers' wildest dreams. One of the cardinal rules of Soap Opera is the identification factor and to bet that viewers want to watch a show about residents of the 16ème arrondissement of Paris (« You want it as usual: Bling Bling » (1)) is a risked gamble at the height of the recession. The era of the Supersoaps and the fascination for their "filthy rich" is long gone (ask the producers of Dirty Sexy Money). The next gamblers in the quest for the new PBLV could consult the producers of EastEnders, or of Germany's GZSZ (Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten) but perhaps Plus belle la vie or Verliebt in Berlin were flukes or pure magic. If there's any next gambler, should Paris 16ème bomb right after the costly Seconde chance.

(1) For an explanation of the reference in this line, see:,8599,1697098,00.html

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